House and Building Research Guide
Are you interested in researching your home or a building in Victoria? The following resources and FAQs will help you get started.
For the house researcher, the city directories are a good place to start. They will provide an idea of what type of building was at a particular address (i.e. residence or business). The directories can also provide a rough idea of the age of a building, by the date the address first appears in the directories.
The early directories list residents (not necessarily owners) in the city and environs, and include their address and occupation. It wasn't until the 1890s that another section listing streets was added. Some directories cover only the city, while others include Vancouver Island and mainland British Columbia. The Archives has a large collection of directories, most of which are accessible on microfilm.
During your research, keep in mind that the street numbering system for Victoria was changed in 1907. In addition to this, street names were often changed.
The Vancouver Public Library has digitized a large number of BC-related directories. Access BC City Directories 1860-1955 online.
Maps and Plans
Fire insurance plans and lot maps can be useful when researching buildings. Fire insurance plans show street numbers, the construction material used for each building, the number of storeys, type of roofing material, position of building on the lot, locations of out buildings, and sometimes the use of the building. The Archives has five sets of original fire insurance plans. The following fire insurance plans for Victoria are available online:
Lot maps can be used to trace the growth of the city and to determine the legal description of buildings. Descriptions of maps in the Archives' collection are searchable through the Archives' Online Search.
Demolished Building Plans
Building plans and applications for plumbing connections for demolished buildings are held by the Archives and are searchable through the Archives' Online Search via the links above. These records are useful tools for researching architects as well as homes, buildings, and businesses that have been demolished. Applications for plumbing connections will usually confirm the date a building was plumbed and the date it was demolished. For plans of extant buildings, contact the City's Permits and Inspections Department: 250-361-0342.
Building permit applications are arranged by building permit number. They may be useful for establishing an approximate date of construction. In addition, the owner's name, legal description, number of storeys and rooms are recorded. The building permit application ledgers are available for viewing in the Archives’ reading room.
Tax Assessment Rolls
Tax assessment records may be useful if you need to establish ownership of a property or the construction dates of a building. These records show lot size, name of owner, land value, and improvements to the land (i.e. house). Tax assessment records are available for viewing in the Archives’ reading room.
The Archives has an extensive photograph collection from a variety of sources.
A number of these images have been scanned and are searchable via the Archives' Online Search. Please note that these images represent only part of what the Archives has. The scanning of records is ongoing and more will be added to the site over time.
These extensive clipping files provide an excellent source of information on development and planning issues, street histories, buildings and neighbourhoods. Search the current list of clipping files through the Archives' Online Search.
A lists of house names from the early 1900's is available online. The list provides information on the name of the residence, its street address, the owner, and the municipality in which it was located.
Frequently Asked Questions about House Research:
Q. Does the Archives have a complete history of my house already prepared?
A. If your house is a designated heritage building, a history of it may already be available in the Community Planning Department, since applications for heritage designation generally require a history. Otherwise, Archives staff will be more than willing to discuss the sources available to you and guide you through the research process.
Q. How do I find the original owner of my house and the date of construction?
A. There are several sources that can be used to find this information. The best and most accurate source are tax assessment rolls. However, they are difficult and time consuming records to use. If your house was built after 1900, obtaining a copy of your plumbing plan from the Permits and Inspections Department will give you the date that the house was connected to the sewer system - likely the same year the house was built. The document will also have the name of the owner at that time. City directories can also be helpful in narrowing down the date (if other sources are not available) and will help you determine who lived in your house over the years.
Q. Who was the architect / builder of my house?
A. Finding out this information can be difficult. Prior to 1907, the City did not require that building plans be submitted, and plans are one of the few sources that document the architect or builder's name.You can request a search for house plans by contacting Permits and Inspections at 250-361-0342. Building permits were occasionally signed by the architect, builder, or contractor. As a last resort, try the newspapers. At the beginning of each year, they published a list of buildings built in the previous twelve months. Architect-designed homes were often singled out for special mention. Historical newspapers are available on microfilm at the Greater Victoria Public Library and online (British Colonist only).
Q. Where can I find a photograph of my house?
A. The Archives has a large photograph collection from a variety of sources. While the Archives may have a photograph of your house or street, we do not have images of every home in the city. If you do not have any luck here, try the BC Archives or the Hallmark Heritage Society Archives.
Image above: Post Office, NW corner of Government and Wharf Streets, ca. 1900 [CVA M07808]Go to Top